And so we arrived in Laos once again ready for another adventure.
We arrived at the border, which was the usual half built ramshakle affair, and got charged a 150 baht bribe to get our passports stamped into the country, not a good start, but one which we had been warned about. And they say corruption doesn't pay!
Upon seeing our choices of transport - an ox cart, a broken down bus or a tuk tuk we decided to travel in style and hired a tuk tuk to take us to Pakse.
For those of you who have not had the joy of travelling in a tuk tuk they are basically a moped or (if you're lucky a motorbike) with a 'carriage' pinned onto the back, rather like a trailer. These 'carriages' can take from 2 to 4 westerners, or 5 to 8 locals. Generally the people driving them have no concern for their or anyone else's safety and zoom down the congested roads like something out of a Formula One race.
Whilst Pakse is the capital of the Champasak province, there isn't really much to do in the town and most people tend to just overnight there on their way down to the south - you pretty much have to pass through it in order to visit anywhere futher south. Perhaps because of this it is a town full of people en-route to somewhere else. However having spent a few days there we could see it had it's own certain charm.
We found a guesthouse that had come recommended by others that we had met along the way. It was a basic but clean ( a priority when you are a traveller) old French style house, with hammocks strung up in the courtyard and a very vocal owner who was always on hand to offer advice as to where to go, what to see and how to get there!
Having spent a day or so exploring Pakse we decided to use it as a base to explore the nearby Bolavan Plateau.
It seems that the most impressive sights to see involve waterfalls. In one day we saw four of them - all very impressive in their own ways, but the most impressive ones were Tat Fan, which drops over 100 metres, and Tat Lo which is the opposite to Tat Fan, being only about 10 meters high, but about the same wide! We had a picnic lunch there, after which some of the more daring of us went swimming, and one guy even dived from the top of the waterfall. Needless to say we just contented ourselves with paddling.
We actually liked Tat Lo so much that we caught the local bus back out the following day and stayed in a hut by the falls for a couple of days just chilling out and being bitten by mosquitos... great fun!
However, our day trip in the Bollavan plateau did not center entirely around waterfall watching. We also paid brief visits to two local villages. The first was to a Karu tribe who store their coffins (which are made in advance for every member of the family) under their houses - which are incidentally built on stilts. Even weirder was our next stop at the "Smoking village" - a Cancer Research nightmare. True to its name every member of the village from about age 3 upwards is encouraged to smoke. Most of them smoke long wooden pipes, even whilst working in the fields or riding their bikes, and we also saw a couple of kids who looked as if they were about 5 years old smoking some of the most enormous roll-ups with all the air of a couple of jaded, seasoned pros. Gee mom would be so proud!
Moving swiftly on, we also visited a haven for that other well-known vice - coffee! I may just be easily excited, but it was cool seeing the different kinds of coffee beans growing there. And, that's not all! We even managed to fit a visit to a tea plantation and a fruit farm into our incredibly hectic schedule.